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December 31, 2009

Roth 2010

Last year I put my Roth contribution into Fidelity Contrafund, a large cap growth mutual fund. It did pretty well, returning about 26% on the year. But in late March it seemed sluggish so I took some out and put it in the peppier Fidelity Small Cap Growth fund which turned out to be a good move since it has gone up 51% since then vs. Contrafund which was up "only" 36% since that time.

If 2009 trends continue, then small caps will continue to outperform large caps and international funds will do well (I put some money into Vanguard's emerging markets index last year and holy cow! 70% gain). But I looked at how my Roth funds are allocated now and I feel like I have a lot of representation from small caps already, so I think I will put some money in large caps and hope they have a good year. I tried to see what sectors underperformed this year, thinking they were due to do better next year. Some of the big tech companies haven't done as well and biotech didn't do very well. So I was thinking that I might try out Vanguard's FTSE Social Index fund again which has pretty big positions in tech, health care, and financial companies. Maybe those will do pretty well, so I was thinking I would put $4k of the 2010 IRA contribution there and then throw the remaining $1k I'm allowed to contribute at Vanguard's Total International Index to give me a little more foreign diversification.

Well, maybe not. It is interesting that right now a lot of the top ten holdings in the FTSE index and Contrafund are the same (Google, Apple, Gilead, JP Morgan Chase, and McDonalds). But FTSE has a 1 star rating from Morningstar while Contrafund has 5 stars. I think most of this is because Contrafund didn't lose as much money in 2008 as most others and FTSE had a lousy year in 2007 after which I sold it. Both funds are large cap growth funds. So now I am thinking I will put money in Contrafund. The only problem with that is it will take a little longer to transfer those funds from Vanguard to my bank account to Fidelity. So instead I will put $2k in Vanguard's International Index which I can transfer directly from another non-IRA Vanguard account at the closing price on January 4. And I will take $3k out of my credit union account (that's about all I have there, drawing 0.8% interest, but I can get to it faster than my Vanguard funds), deposit it, make a contribution to the Fidelity IRA (which goes directly into my cash holdings), then place an order from cash holdings into Contrafund the same day.

Six years of contributing towards the Roth IRA hasn't worked out great so far, but last year I was down $6,000 and now I am down less than $100. The good part of that is I can withdraw all of the money and pay no penalties since penalties only apply to the gains.

December 26, 2009

Top 10 Movies of the Decade

The Siskel and Ebert movie review show that started out as Sneak Previews on PBS eventually has morphed to become At the Movies with Michael Philips of the Chicago Tribune and A.O. Scott of the New York Times. This is a better pair than some of the iterations they have had in the past, though Richard Roeper was pretty good as a replacement to Gene Siskel.

Anyway, even though the current pair have only been on the show for a few months, they are both professional movie critics, so they have been watching movies long enough to compile a list of the best movies of the decade, which they presented on the show over a period of ten weeks. So I'm going to show you their picks and then, based on my database of movies, I'm going to take a stab at it as well. First, A.O. Scott's list:

  1. Wall-E (B+)
  2. A.I.
  3. Brokeback Mountain
  4. The Pianist
  5. Where the Wild Things Are
  6. The Best of Youth
  7. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
  8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (A)
  9. 25th Hour
  10. Million Dollar Baby (B)

Michael Philips chose:

  1. There Will Be Blood (C+)
  2. Ratatouille (A)
  3. Climates
  4. Once (B+)
  5. Y Tu Mama Tambien (B)
  6. Zodiac (B)
  7. United 93 (A-)
  8. Mulholland Drive
  9. Gosford Park (A)
  10. Minority Report (B)

When Ebert would do the year-end lists it seems like he would always pick obscure movies that he thought were overlooked and deserved attention. I suspect he wasn't necessarily picking the movies he enjoyed the most, but using the list as a way to get people to see obscure movies. A.O. Scott may be doing some of that, but these guys see a lot of movies, way more than me, so maybe some of those just click with them. Michael Phillips' list is interesting because while I only saw 3 of Scott's best, I saw 8 of Phillips'. I thought There Will Be Blood was horribly overrated. I thought it was also interesting that animated films did so well, but I agree that some of the best movies are animated. Richard Corliss of Time magazine had a 2009 Top 10 list with the top 3 slots taken by animated movies (traditional animation with The Princess and the Frog, computer animation with Pixar's Up, and stop action animation in The Fantastic Mr. Fox).

They also took a poll of their viewers online and came up with this list, which is respectable (self-selected movie buffs) though a little pretentious:

  1. The Return of the King (A)
  2. The Dark Knight (A-)
  3. Wall-E (B+)
  4. There Will Be Blood (C+)
  5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (A)
  6. The Departed (B)
  7. No Country for Old Men (A-)
  8. Pan's Labyrinth (D)
  9. Children of Men (C)
  10. Mulholland Drive

If I take my top movie of each year (I haven't seen that many movies this year, so Up is the current front-runner) and then try to sort them, I end up with:

  1. Crash
  2. Almost Famous
  3. An Inconvenient Truth
  4. Blackhawk Down
  5. Chicago
  6. Doubt
  7. Up
  8. Charlie Wilson's War
  9. Return of the King
  10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

December 19, 2009

Bad Flashlight Decision

In just the last few months, new LED's were introduced for flashlights by the company Cree. Cree assigns bin numbers to LED's that indicate how bright they are. All of my newest lights have various Cree LED's and bin numbers. The Fenix is XR-E LED with a Q5 bin. The tiny flashlight is a XP-E LED (smaller than the XR-E) with a Q5 bin. There isn't a Q6. For whatever reason, the next level of brightness is R2. The stainless flashlight I just got has an XP-E R2 LED, but I couldn't tell that it was brighter than the Q5's. Now there is a new LED called the XP-G which has bin numbers as high as R5. That should be significantly brighter. So I went looking around for cheap R5 flashlights, but couldn't find any. For whatever dumb reason, I wound up buying an R2 LED that promised to be 250 lumens (my brightest is 180 lumens), not thinking that that probably wasn't even possible with a R2. Worse, I bought a 6-mode flashlight with 3 different flashy modes (fast strobe, slow strobe, and SOS) and I didn't realize that the light wouldn't accept lithium-ion batteries which are the only way to get significant brightness out of a 1xAA light. So it showed up yesterday and it was a kind of decent light. I posted a review at CPF with all the details. Anyway, I didn't like the light and the only way I was going to like it was if I could make it brighter by using a lithium-ion battery, so even though you aren't supposed to use one, I put one in there anyway. And the light wouldn't work anymore. I had burned it up. I didn't even have it a whole day.


But as it turned out, the "driver" which is all the electronics in between the battery and the LED that give it the modes and provide a uniform voltage had burned out. The LED itself was still working. And the switch was still working. These LED's need 3.6 volts to light up. So a 1xAA flashlight has to boost the voltage up to that level. But a lithium-ion battery is already 3.6 volts. Most lights that use a lithium-ion battery still regulate the voltage so that the brightness doesn't fade as the battery voltage fades, but you can also "direct drive" a LED. So I found the wires leading from the LED and soldered them onto some plates that were connected to the positive and negative ends of the battery. It didn't work, but I think that was because of my lousy soldering. I fiddled with the soldering and I would get just a flash of light every now and then. So I fiddled with it some more and now it works! So I have a 1-mode direct drive light. It won't work at all with an AA battery, but it is quite bright with the lithium-ion battery (maybe my brightest light). So that's better than nothing.

Uniquefire S10 6-mode Review

Why I bought this light

I bought this light on impulse. With the Cree XP-G R5 lights out, I was looking for something that would be brighter than my Fenix L1D. The L1D is good, but if you use a lithium-ion battery it loses the lower modes. I found some R5 lights, but they all used 18650 batteries. So I searched for R2 and came up with the S10, which advertised 250 lumens. I know to be skeptical of DX and KD claims, but that is what got me interested, even though it is an XR-E, not an XP-G LED. Really, the R2 is only one bin above the Q5 I have in my Fenix and the same as the Trustfire XP-E F23 that I had on the way already. DX has some S10 lights available which they say have mode memory and can take a 14500 lithium-ion battery. I checked Kai's Domain and they had S10's as well for a couple of dollars less. None of the lights had reviews from owners, which should have kept me away. And I just assumed that KD was carrying the same light as DX, but it turns out that KD does not claim memory mode and says the light is AA only with a maximum voltage of 1.5. If I could get 250 lumens out of an AA, that would be fine, but nobody else is making anything like that, so I should have know the claim was bogus. Anyway, I ordered it. I don't even like having 3 flashy modes. So it was pretty much a mistake from the beginning and I was too quick to buy.


Uniquefire S10 above and Fenix L1D below:

Features and build

The light arrived from KD in 2 weeks from the shipping date, which is pretty good for December. Cosmetically, this is a good looking light. It seems to be a near clone of the Fenix LD10 (pre-clip version) except that it adds some fairly sharp crenelations on the bezel (could damage pockets). The silver exterior color is nice with no blemishes and has a slightly green tint, which I like. The power button functions well. The two tail cap o-rings seem watertight (they actually make it a little difficult to get the tailcap on) and seemed to have been lubricated. There is a big o-ring for the head, but I'm not sure if it engages or not. I dunked the light in a jar of water for about 5 minutes (head down and head up) and it stayed lit with no apparent leakage after I took it all apart.

The LED appears to be a Cree XR-E as advertised. Has a mild anti-roll shape near the head (won't stop much rolling, but it comes with a lanyard which helps). The pill was easy to remove by sticking a tiny phillips head screwdriver in one of the two holes and pushing to unscrew it out of place. I was also able to remove the tail switch the same way, though the boot and spring seemed to be lightly glued or sealed in place. The reflector is metal with orange peel texture and the lens is glass with an o-ring tucked into the rim of the head.


The low is very nice, about 10 lumens (I don't have a light box or even light meter so I am eyeballing the lumens by comparing with what Fenix claims for the L1D). The beam tint is cool white, but not all that blue. The beam pattern is good with no rings with a fuzzy hotspot similar to the L1D and the Trustfire XP-E F23: some spill, balanced for decent throw. Maximum output is more like 120-140 lumens on a AA NiMH, nowhere close to the advertised 250 lumens, but similar to the Fenix L1D I have. It can not be used with a 14500 lithium ion battery (more on that later). Runtime on a 2000 mAh Rayovac NiMH AA cell was about an hour before the light was significantly dimmer. The light got warm during that time, but definitely not hot. Slow strobe or what I'm calling Beacon is about 72 blinks per minute. There was a piece of glue or dirt on the LED dome so I had to unscrew the pill out of the head to get to it and clean the dome off. Now sometimes the light won't turn on with the first click and when it does it makes a high-pitched noise (sometimes not that noticeable, sometimes very noticeable) and the noise goes on and off with the light in the different flashy modes. When putting the light down to tailstand, it changed modes by itself, not because the switch protrudes a tiny bit, but any time you audibly knock the metal base (not hard), it changes modes.

The problem with the modes is the light always comes on in the next mode from the last time. With a sequence of High-Medium-Low-Strobe-Beacon-SOS, if it was in Low last time, it will come in Strobe next time. If it couldn't have memory, the next best thing would have been to come on in High every time. This type of memory is just one step above having the light come on in a random mode when you turn it on. So this by itself makes the light pretty useless. [Note: reviews on DX indicate that if you leave the light off for 25 seconds or longer, that the memory works. In playing around with it to test it out, I wasn't usually doing that.] The one thing I bought the light for was to outperform my Fenix in brightness and still allow lower modes to work. In an effort to get the advertised 250 lumens, I decided to risk killing an otherwise pretty lousy light by using a 14500 lithium ion cell, even though Kai says the light is meant for AA only. I inserted a 14500 lithium ion battery and, without so much as a flash, the light was dead. Ding dong dead (Well, not quite. I was able to convert it to direct drive and now it is a 1-mode light using a 14500, buzz-free and bright, maybe even the 220 lumens advertised at DX, but still not 250 lumens that KD claims). I should have taken some beam shots first, sorry.

Outdoor Shots

I took these pictures after I burned out the driver and converted it to direct drive, so this is much brighter than with AA's and the original driver. The stick is 25 feet away. The fencepost to the left of the stick is 120 feet away. The exposure time is 4 seconds. Here's a control shot:

Direct driven with a fresh 14500 lithium ion battery (4.2 volts):

For comparison, here is a Fenix L2D Q5 in turbo mode with 2 2000mAh Eneloop NiMH AA's:


The biggest reason I bought it was to get something brighter than what I have already, which it is not. I was hoping to get some additional brightness using lithium-ion batteries and keep the modes, but the light from KD absolutely can not be use with li-ions. The cruel version of mode memory makes this thing useless to me since I usually only use a light in short bursts and if I want it in High most of the time, I don't want to have to flip through 5 modes to get back to that level every time I use the light. DealExtreme sells S10's advertising memory (only if the light is off for 25 seconds) and the ability to use lithium-ion batteries (unconfirmed). The light's tendency to change modes by itself when it gets knocked isn't acceptable either.

December 13, 2009

Trustfire XP-E F23 Review

Here's my review of the Trustfire XP-E F23 R2 with beam shots comparing it to my Fenix LD1 Q5 and iTP A3 EOS upgraded. I got the Trustfire from DealExtreme and it took a really long time for it to show up. I filed a PayPal dispute after 4 weeks from the ship date, but it showed up a few days later and I closed the dispute.


I am impressed with this light. It is real stainless steel (not magnetic) and looks great (despite the glow-in-the-dark boot). I carried it in my pocket with keys or change for a day or two and it got some light scratches on it. With such a smooth finish, I guess that's expected.

DX says the low is 80 lumens, but it looks more like 10 to me (I'm guesstimating Fenix lumens), which is a lot better than 80. They also say the maximum brightness is 150 lumens, which is probably reasonable on 10440 lithium ions (might be 180). It isn't that much less on NiMH's, maybe 120 lumens.

I like that there aren't very many modes (low-high-strobe) but I could do without strobe. I also like that there is no head twisting. This flashlight can be operated just by your thumb on the reverse clicky. And the memory means it can come on directly in high if that's where you left it, which is what I want most of the time. I'm thinking this will be my primary dog-walking light. Maybe the strobe will come in handy if we come across an aggressive dog.

The build quality is pretty good. My only problem is the o-rings don't seem to engage whatever is being screwed over them, so it probably isn't dunkable. But the joints close up really tight, so who knows? Not me. The threads don't move as smoothly as my other lights, but that seems to be expected for steel.

The head has a really deep smooth reflector. So the beam shows up more ringy and less floody than the iTP A3, but it throws farther. However the L1D throws even farther than that, but it has a bigger reflector too. The o-ring between the lens and reflector leaves a thin glowing line when you turn the flashlight off that is kind of neat.

I don't have the equipment to do a good runtime test, but on a 800 mAh Duracell precharged cell ("duraloop"), the light stayed on for 38 minutes before getting significantly dimmer. During that time the light got quite warm, but not hot. I did a test with an unprotected blue Trustfire 600mAh 10440 lithium ion cell, stopping every 3 minutes to measure the battery voltage and current at the battery. Within 6 minutes, the head of the light was too hot to keep a finger on it comfortably, but the heat was concentrated at the front of the light. After 15 minutes, the battery was lower than I should have let it get, so that is about all you can get out of it.

Time Volts Amps
0:00 4.19 1.23
0:03 3.89 1.11
0:06 3.77 1.01
0:09 3.70 0.94
0:12 3.63 0.84
0:15 3.33 0.54

Beam Shots

The Trustfire is always on the left. Most pictures were taken at f2.8 and 1/25 second exposure until the end when the exposure is shortened. The distance to the wall is half a meter.

Trustfire XP-E F23 vs. iTP A3 EOS on high with NiMH eneloops. The Trustfire is a little brighter, but the A3 puts off a lot of spill that you can't really see here and that makes it seem like there is more light overall with the A3. The F23 tint is pretty white but cool, but not as cool as the A3. Definitely not blue. I'm impressed with the tint. They're not as neutral as they look here:

F23 vs. A3 on low with NiMH eneloops. The A3 has a very low low (1.5 lumens) while the F23 seems to be more like 10-15 lumens:

F23 vs. Fenix LD1 Q5 on High with NiMH Eneloops. The F23 seems brighter. The L1D has a warmer tint though:

F23 vs. L1D on low with NiMH Eneloops. Fenix claims 12 lumens on low, so the Trustfire is maybe just a hair under that at 10 lumens:

Fade series F23 vs. A3 on high with fresh lithium ion batteries:
1/25 second:

1/250th second:

1/1000th second:

Now a fade series against the L1D with lithium ion batteries.

1/25th second:

1/250th second:

1/1000th second:

Outdoor shots

The forked stick in the ground is 25 feet away. The light is aimed at the fencepost to the left of the stick which is about 120 feet away. This exposure is for 4 seconds.

Control shot:

On High with 800mAh Eneloop AAA NiMH:

On High with 600mAh Ultrafire 10440 lithium-ion battery. I didn't realize there was such a difference. This light also throws pretty well:

For comparison, here is the iTP A3 EOS on 10440 li-ion:

The F23 on Low with 800mAh Eneloop AAA NiMH:

The F23 on Low with 600mAh Ultrafire 10440 li-ion:


This is a good light. Because it isn't as small as the iTP A3 EOS, that light will remain in my pocket as my EDC. And the Fenix is still a better general use light with a nicer tint and better throw. But I'll definitely use the F23 walking the dogs because it can be used with one hand, has mode memory, a good low, and is plenty bright on high.

December 12, 2009

Flashlight Collection

I probably need a jumping off point concerning some of the flashlights I've been getting. If I mention a light in another post, you can come here and see which one I am talking about.

Flashlight Collection

all3itp.jpgiTP EOS A3 - Tiny Flashlight 1xAAA light. Twists on and off with 3 modes, always starting with medium, then low, then high. Amazingly bright (180 lumens) with a li-ion battery even though it is not recommended. I bought some one-mode versions of these lights for everyone at work who worked on the 2009 flood bridge for me and for the Mac5 families at Christmas. I figured they would be annoyed by the extra modes and although I wouldn't give them li-ion batteries, I did include an Energizer lithium battery (probably 100 lumens). Originally purchased in October 2009, but I lost it the following September and replaced it with a black one, then got a titanium one in November used. In November I found the gray one again in my yard near to the front walkway, so Jeb bought it from me. Now I keep the black one on my keychain.

flash-mmag.jpgMini Maglite upgrades - I bought two of these upgrades which make my two 2xAA Mini Maglites very bright (100 lumens). The upgrade is the Terralux TLE-5EX. I had to grind down the edges of one of them to make it fit into my black older Maglite. I also got a smaller upgrade chip (Terralux TLE-20) for my 2xAAA Mini Maglite, but it is not nearly as bright. Still, it will last longer on a set of batteries. I bought a tail switch for the silver 2xAA light and keep it next to the back door in case I need to rush out at night to see what the dogs have gotten into. The black MiniMag is in my car. May 2009.

flash-l1d.jpgFenix L1D/L2D/P2D I bought the L2D, a 2xAA light which is very bright and has 4 brightness levels as well as strobe and SOS. This is my best flashlight. I also bought "lego" pieces that let me convert it to a 1xAA light (the L1D) or a 1xCR123 light (the P2D). I like the size of the L1D, but at 120 lumens it isn't as bright as the L2D at 180 lumens. If you put a li-ion battery in the L1D, it is just as bright as the L2D, but you lose the ability to go to lower levels. May 2009.

flash-snake.jpgVersapak Snakelight - This got it all started because I wanted to see if I could upgrade the bulb to a LED. I bought a weak Nite-Ize LED at Fry's for it which was just as bright (though definitely has a blue tint) as the original bulb but would last ten times longer on a charge. Then I upgraded again to the 1-watt Terralux TLE-1F which made it brighter (30 lumens) and somewhat less blue (should have gotten the Nite-Ize 1-watt), though battery life is less than the weak LED (still way longer than the original bulb). The Snakelight still has some use since you can put it down and have it point in any direction. May 2009.

flash-xpef23.jpgUltrafire XP-E F23 - A DealExtreme 1xAAA light. Took forever to get here, but this is a very nice light (especially for only $13.80). Not quite as bright as the iTP on a li-ion battery (maybe 150 lumens), but it remembers the last mode it was in, so you don't have to click through medium and low to get back to high again. If it was on high before, it will come on in high. Also has a tail clicky which is easier for one-hand use. This is a good dog-walking light. I gave this one to Nicole and then ordered another one. My review. December 2009.

s10headx.jpgUniquefire S10 This was a bad decision light that turned out to have none of the qualities I wanted in a new flashlight. It wasn't brighter, wouldn't accept lithium-ion batteries, had a terrible user interface (I didn't know those three things when I ordered it), had three different flashy modes, and a reverse clicky. I wound up burning out the driver and converting it to a very bright direct drive 1-mode light using lithium-ion batteries. It is about the same size as the Fenix L1D, but silver. My review. December 2009.

504bhand.jpgUltrafire WF-502B This is my first P60 drop-in host and my first light to take 18650 batteries (so I had to buy a couple of batteries and a charger). After thinking about getting a P60 for a Cree XP-G R5 LED, I decided to get this less expensive Cree XR-E R2 LED which has can shine a beam pretty far and then maybe invest in a brighter R5 drop-in later on which would have more flood but less throw. I really like the quality of this light, but I didn't like that it was 5 modes. I converted it to 2 modes with memory when I swapped drivers. January 2010. My review at BudgetLightForum.

1200head.jpgUltrafire MCU WF-1200L After researching a lot of multi-die emitter lights (4 LED's packed together on a chip) which promise 600 lumens or more, I found this one for sale used in a CPF classified ad for about half of its brand new price. It has a Seoul Semiconductor P7 LED and takes 2 18650 batteries (the seller sold me two batteries for an extra $5). This one can be taken apart (some MTE lights have a glued-on bezel) and has a larger reflector for better throw. February 2010. My review at BudgetLightForum. In December 2010, I upgraded the LED to a Cree XM-L T6 which got rid of the donut hole and greenish tint this light originally had, but seems to be just as bright.

x2000.jpgZY-30 Flood to Throw Light The unique thing about this 3xAAA light is that it has an aspherical lens (like a fisheye lens) on the front that can be moved backwards and forwards like a camera zoom lens to provide an even flood of light or narrowed to a very tight beam. A seller on eBay was offering lights with the Cree XR-E Q5 LED while DX seemed to only have P4 bins (or SSC P4 LED's?), plus this one offered a high and low mode. My review at Budget Light Forums. March 2010. Gave to Jeb in June 2010.

akorayk106.jpgAKOray K-106 3-mode Programmable took forever to get here since I ordered it so close to Chinese New Year's and then it sat at the local post office for 3 weeks. It is a pretty neat light, but not quite as bright as I hoped it would be. In an effort to make it brighter, I changed the LED to a XP-G R5, but it still isn't that bright. Eventually I put a neutral XP-G R4 in it. March 2010. My review at BLF.

ufwf502b.jpgUltrafire WF-502B with 1-mode XP-G Drop-in Similar to the 504B above, but this 1x18650 P60 host comes with the latest LED from Cree, the XP-G in their brightest bin, R5. Got a 1-mode because it was a little cheaper and I planned on swapping the driver out anyway. April 2010 My review at BLF

front.jpg Aurora SH-035 Stainless steel light from a series with a good reputation, but the driver burned out when I tried a lithium-ion battery. So I wound up changing the LED from a XP-E Q5 to a neutral white XP-G R4, replaced the driver, and replaced the glow-in-the-dark tailcap with a black one. April 2010.

501bhand.jpgUltraFire WF-501B with 5-mode MC-E. A chance to get an inexpensive 4-die emitter in a P60 drop-in. It was said to be driven at 2+ amps, but I measured 1.6A. I replaced the driver with a better one that I was sure would yield 2.8A, but it was 1.6A too. It turns out the leads on my voltmeter were giving bad readings, so I bought new leads. Puts out a lot of light, but has a donut hole in the beam. The 501B host itself is not so great. My review at BLF. July 2010.

solarfarce.jpgSolarForce L2 host (fake): Bought from a discounter who said it was a genuine SolarForce, but actually it is a fake and seems to be the same as the UltraFire WF-504B I have except it is black. Still, not bad and came with an extension tube for using a second 18650 battery (though none of my drop-ins can handle two batteries). It is an empty host, so I will need to add a bulb and reflector. July 2010.

solarforce.jpgSolarForce L2 host: After being duped on the other one, I got a "gunmetal gray" SolarForce on eBay on sale. It is well made, but is also an empty host so I will add a bulb and reflector. My comparison of the two versions of Solarforce lights on BLF. July 2010.

k106-aas1.jpg UniqueFire AA-S1 1-mode light uses an Osram Golden Dragon LED (most of my lights have Cree LED's; Osram is a German company). It is very bright on a single AA battery and even brighter on a lithium-ion. Looks like a twin of the AKOray K-106. Review at BLF. September 2010. I brought this in to work to show a friend who was interested in a small cheap light and he bought it from me on the spot. I don't think I'll replace it.

blf-aa-y4e.jpgMr.Lite BLF AA-Y4E Custom made light for Budget Light Forum. Four modes, none flashy. Features a collimator lens for improved throw. My review at BLF. November 2010.

blackcat-hm01.jpgBlack Cat HM-01 1xAAA 1-mode light with a warm tinted Osram LED. The beam is very ringy, but this is a pretty decent light and the tint is even warmer than my neutral tinted XP-G R5's. My review at BLF. November 2010.

solarforce-l2i.jpgSolarforce L2i Really just a host (doesn't have a bulb or reflector), but I plan on getting a drop-in for it soon. Unlike my other P60 lights which take 18650 lithium-ion batteries, this one runs on 3 AAA batteries held in a carrier. The 3 AAA's don't have as much capacity so it won't run for as long, but the batteries are more common. I picked "sand" color for this one, but I think I like the L2's gunmetal gray better.

I bought another Ultrafire WF-502B, this time with a Cree XR-E Q5 LED just because it was so cheap: $5.63 shipped. It also came with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and a charger. But the charger didn't work and the flashlight isn't as good as my original one, so I'll probably only use it for parts.

Solarforce L2p is a deluxe version of the L2, with more durable anodizing, gold-plated interior (more gold-tinted), a milder bezel, and the ability to tailstand. I put a very bright Cree XM-L 3-mode drop-in in it that I got on a special deal from Manafont. The problem with this light is the battery chamber is a little too long so it doesn't work with all combinations of drop-ins and batteries.

x1grass.jpgUltrafire X1 isn't a great flashlight, but it is compact and takes an 18650 battery. I got it to sort of replace the Quark I had bought and returned. After some initial tests, I took out the driver and LED and replaced them with upgrades, the XR-E Q5 LED being upgraded to a neutral tinted XP-G R4 and the original 5-mode 1 amp driver being replaced with a 3-mode 1.4 amp driver. Puts out a lot more light but doesn't shine as far as it originally did. It is my main summertime dog walking light (smaller than a wintertime light because I'm not wearing a coat to carry it in). Also replaced the lens with AR coated glass and the glow-in-the-dark tail cap cover with an orange spare from my Fenix.

skyraysr5.jpgSkyray S-R5 is a clone of a Lumens Factory Seraph. Really unique design (the original anyway). Has a retro future look to it with rubber rings around it for better grip and fins near the front for better heat sinking. I put a drop-in with a neutral XM-L that I built in this one. June 2011.

mrvclone.jpgLumapower MRV clone I had bought a couple of neutral-tinted Cree XM-L LED's. One of them went into the Skyray above, but I wanted to put the other in something with more throw. A lot of people like the Ultrafire C8 model because it has a bigger reflector and better heat sinking than a P60 light. This one has the shiny aluminum (maybe stainless) accent and the same size reflector as the C8. The clicky is a little too stiff and this generic clone was missing a couple of o-rings. I put the same 2.8 amp driver in this as the P60 and on medium it is as bright as most of my other lights. July 2011.

tanke07.jpgTank007 E07 BLF Edition The E07 is usually a 1-mode light, but Tank007 and retailer Manafont built a special edition 3-mode light for Budget Light Forum. It was supposed to have mode order of Low Medium High and instead is HML. It was also supposed to have a neutral tint but most people got cool tints. Also the battery tube is a little too short so you can't screw the head down all the way. So it wasn't what we hoped for, but it isn't a bad light. It has an Osram Golden Dragon LED in it for maybe 80 lumens on High with a NiMH battery and maybe 150 lumens on a lithium ion cell. My review. September 2011.

sunwaymanv10a.jpgSunwayman V10A My most expensive light, but got a very good deal on it at Dino Direct. Has a forward clicky for momentary on and ring near the front to select any brightness from less than 1 lumen to maximum output. Accepts a lithium ion 14500 for greater output, but also takes an AA battery. Use a Cree XP-G LED. I would have preferred a neutral tint instead of cool white, but Sunwayman hasn't released any neutrals and it seems unlikely at this point. My review. October 2011.

uf2100.jpgUniquefire UF-2100 Got a good deal on this light as well. It is a compact 18650 light similar to the Ultrafire X1 above, but has a much brighter XM-L LED. Comes with 3 modes: High, Low, and Strobe, but some people found out you could alter the circuit board to get 5 modes, adding a Medium (and SOS). My review. October 2011.

December 8, 2009

DealExtreme Dispute

I seem to be getting into a lot of disputes lately. Last month I ordered a pretty little flashlight from DealExtreme. I was pretty happy with the batteries and charger I bought from them previously and this light got some good reviews. It takes 1 AAA battery like my tiny flashlight, but it is stainless steel with a brass ring that looks real sharp. It also has a tail power button and remembers the last mode it was in. This means if you had the light on High before, it will come on in High again. I like that. The tiny flashlight always comes on at Medium, then Low, then High. Most of the time I want High. This light has three modes, but one is strobe (pretty useless). So I would have to skip over that one. And the low is 80 lumens instead of the high of 150 lumens. I would like for the low to be lower, maybe 20 lumens (turns out to be about 10 lumens).

Anyway, it was only $13.80 shipped from China, so I thought I'd try it out. I ordered it November 1 and although DealExtreme said it was available in a few days, I didn't get a shipping notice until November 10. Once shipped, they said the light should arrive in 5-10 working days (ignoring the favorable part of their range, that's two weeks, or November 24). Well that didn't happen, so I gave them another week and still nothing. They have an online form where you can tell them the item never arrived and they are supposed to get back to you in 24-48 hours. However, 48 hours later I hadn't heard anything. Every day I'm checking my mail and now I'm checking my DX account to see if they are trying to contact me. Nothing.

Fortunately, DX uses PayPal for payment. So after giving DX another week (four weeks total) and having never heard from customer service, I opened a dispute with PayPal for having never received the item and asked for a refund. Reading about user experiences with DealExtreme, it turns out that after 45 days from when you paid someone, you can no longer dispute the item. I wasn't all that close to 45 days (28 days, plus 9 days from when I ordered, so 37 days total), but I was getting there fast, so it was time. Once you file a dispute PayPal gives you 20 days to resolve it or escalate it to a claim. So you definitely want to file a dispute before the 45 day deadline because it at least buys you some more time.

Within minutes (maybe less) I got an e-mail from DX saying they were refunding $13.17. I checked my PayPal account and they hadn't sent any money. Maybe it would take a little while. A few hours later, I still haven't received anything. It isn't even the full amount. It seems like I should get all $13.80.

Anyway, nothing has actually happened. I think they automatically generate that e-mail and then don't pay. I can escalate the dispute to a claim and PayPal will decide if I should get a refund or not. The best of both worlds is I get my $13.17 and then the flashlight shows up in the mail afterall. I would feel like I owed them payment if I got it after they fully refunded my money, but if they only refund part of it, then I feel like I bought it and it is legally mine.

Meanwhile I have ordered a different 1 AA light from a similar company called KaiDomain (a Uniquefire S10). The lure of this one is that it could be brighter than my Fenix (it has a higher bin LED of R2 instead of Q5, though even higher binned R5's are now hitting the market) and the modes will still work if I use a 14500 lithium ion battery (the Fenix doesn't). It also has memory of the last mode. The bad part is that it is a reverse clicky and the light is cool white instead of neutral. But it is also about $14, so maybe worth the possible improvement although it is too new to have reviews posted. I might have it by next Friday.

December 1, 2009

Peace Corps 2010 Reunion

This is a place where Thai 92 people can write information about a possible reunion in 2010. Starting off, let's see who is interested and offer a suggestion for a general place. Then we can figure out a week. Then maybe we can actually get a head count and make a reservation. I think Marci and Julian should be in charge.

I'll start out. I'm interested and will go just about anywhere. My only conflict is June 6-12.

Please post a comment below and we'll see what happens . . .

eBay Dispute

Generally I haven't had problems with buying things on eBay. I typically don't buy from eBay when I want new items because the bids often get beyond what I can buy the same thing for online or in stores. But I needed some lithium batteries and they're hard to get a deal on, partly because I think Energizer has a patent on them so there is no competition. So before I bought them in a store I thought I'd look on eBay. The Buy It Now prices were all higher than in stores, but I found a couple of auctions ending the next day that still didn't have any bids (turned out they were 1-day auctions), so I figured I had nothing to lose and bid $1.25 (8 batteries would be $16 in the store) plus there would be $3.50 shipping. I was winning. Within a couple of hours I had been outbid, but the same seller had two other auctions ending at the same time with no bids. Why fight against someone else? So I bid $5 on another one and got beat pretty quickly. Now I had to think how much was it really worth? One scary thing was the seller had only been online for a month, with 15 sales, most of which were purchases. The items sold included some cosmetics and a couple of baseball cards. I wondered where a person would get these batteries and thought maybe they just steal them. How hard would it be to pocket some batteries in a drug store and then sell them on eBay? But I knew with eBay and PayPal that really not that much could go wrong and I would be protected. I needed the batteries and they were going to cost $16 plus maybe $1 tax at the store, so if I subtracted out shipping I could bid up to $13.50, so I bid $8.90 which held against a number of other bids until the next day. Soon I was beaten again, so I bid on the third one for $11.15 and this held, bumping up a dollar or so to beat a last second bid, with the auction ending at $10.50 (the other two finished at $9 and $9.50). So I won and would still save $3. It was a far cry from getting them for $1.25, but eBay does an amazing job of finding a price.

I paid via PayPal immediately. This was Sunday night November 15. The good thing is they could be shipped the next day and, coming from Knoxville, I could have them in a couple of days.

So the next day I waited for a shipping notification and heard nothing. The next day again nothing. After I didn't receive anything on Wednesday and hadn't gotten anything in the mail, I wrote the seller to ask if they had shipped the batteries. I got no answer that day or the next, nor did I receive the package in what should have been plenty of time. So I decided I needed to file a dispute. However, eBay said that I couldn't file a dispute until 3 days after a reasonable time to receive the shipment (4 days) had occurred. Afraid that once a dispute was filed, that I couldn't give the person negative feedback, I went ahead and left negative feedback and then filed the dispute (turns out eBay encourages negative feedback when a dispute is filed and I had 30 days just like always to file feedback).

eBay doesn't like disputes. Before I could file it, not only did I have to wait, but they asked that I try to contact the seller again, including by phone. I wasn't interested in talking to the person. The good thing is I had a record of having written to the seller and having gotten no response for several days. Still, the seller now had seven days to respond to the dispute. At this point I bought the batteries I needed at a local store and said I just wanted my money back. I figured that if the seller had actually sent the batteries and eBay credited my account that I would let the seller buy the batteries back for the difference between what I paid at the store and the price I had bid (a difference of $3) plus $3.50 postage, otherwise I would keep them, even though honestly, I had no further use of them.

A couple of days later I got a response from the seller. It was written generally to all of this person's buyers saying there had been a fire in the apartment below, that their grandmother was sick, and please do not leave negative feedback because they depend on eBay for a lot of their income and are feeding two little girls. With only 15 sales ever, I'm not sure how much income this person was making, but I assume that maybe they had multiple accounts that had gotten negative feedback in the past, so they would start fresh. The message said they would make things right, but didn't offer a refund, nor did they say they were shipping anything. It's hard to think a person is sincere when they aren't actually doing anything to make anything right. A couple of days later, they got another piece of negative feedback, which only brought them down to 86.5% favorable. That sounds pretty favorable, but it is really awful. Never do business with people with less than 98% favorability. You'll still have a 1 in 50 chance of a bad experience.

Towards the end of last week, eBay wrote a message saying that they were waiting to hear from the seller and if the situation was not resolved that they might make a decision on November 29. Yesterday, November 30, I had heard nothing, so I wrote and asked eBay if they had made a decision. Today, I finally received payment from eBay for the full amount of the auction and shipping.

So the process works. I never had to talk to anyone, but it probably didn't hurt to send a message through eBay from time to time. Other than that, it just takes some time. The good thing is it was never a whole lot of money, so I wasn't real worked up about it.